Wednesday, October 20, 2004
Clerk Absenteeism High in Apparent Job Action, Court Says
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Los Angeles Superior Court operated with far fewer courtroom clerks than normal yesterday in what officials labeled an apparent job action.
There were no official figures available, but Assistant Judge William MacLaughlin said there appeared to be “in excess of 100 unanticipated absences” among the 750 or so clerks—officially designated as “judicial assistants.” About 600 of them are scheduled to work on any given day, a court spokesman said.
The absenteeism varied from courthouse to courthouse, MacLaughlin said, with about 31 clerks absent at the Stanley Mosk Courthouse downtown where MacLaughlin sits. The courts most affected, he said, appeared to be those in Van Nuys, San Fernando, Glendale, Burbank, and the West District, which includes the Santa Monica civil courts and the Airport Courthouse where criminal cases are heard.
The problem became apparent to a large crowd of reporters in Judge Darlene Schempp’s Van Nuys courtroom, where a motion to suppress in the Robert Blake murder case was heard. At one point, the judge had to swear in a witness while her clerk was attending to a matter in another courtroom, the court spokesman told the MetNews.
Similar measures were undertaken throughout the system, which MacLaughlin said was able to get through the day by responding to the absenteeism in various means.
“No courtroom went dark,” the assistant presiding judge said, as judges shifted clerks or calendars as needed. “I think there was a variety of responses,” MacLaughlin explained.
The court had no advance notice of any job action, the judge explained, but was “aware of the possibility.” The court’s contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 575 expired March 31, and the court imposed its “last, best, and final offer” last month after mediation efforts failed.
It was not clear what role, if any, the union played in yesterday’s events. A call to a union spokesman was not returned.
Court spokesman Allan Parachini said that no disciplinary action will be taken regarding yesterday’s absences, but that employees would have pay docked if they continued to miss work without valid excuse. Other actions can be taken, as well, if the sickout continues, Parachini said, although he declined to elaborate.
The union has previously engaged in informational picketing and threatened to strike—as it did under similar circumstances seven years ago—if the court does not improve on the “last, best” offer.
The union has cited salary, vacation scheduling and bonuses as the sticking points.
The union has said it wants a “me too” clause, which which would guarantee the clerks receive treatment no less favorable than other unionized workers; wants to retain the building-based vacation scheduling method described in the most recent contract, rather than have vacations scheduled according to operational division; and wants to increase the number of clerks qualifying for 5.5 percent bonuses.
Parachini said the court has offered all it can in light of its current budget situation. The vacation scheduling change, he has said in the past, is necessary to insure that an adequate number of clerks will be available each day.
Copyright 2004, Metropolitan News Company